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August 4, 2015 / 19 Av, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Orthodox Jews’

Women of the Wall Blame Gov’t for Their Damaged Torah Scroll

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Women of the Wall now are blaming the government for inadequate storage for their Torah scroll that the group said sustained damaged due to dampness, making it unfit for reading.

Women will gather at the Robinson’s Arch at the Western Wall on Friday, the first of two days that mark the beginning of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, but they will pray without a Torah scroll.

After years of being banned by the police and the Western Wall rabbi from changing the status quo that preserves Orthodox Jewish tradition at the Western Wall (Kotel), authorities earlier this year finally arranged a compromise whereby the women can pray in their minyan and with a Torah scroll, but only at the Kotel’s southern section, known as Robinson’s Arch.

The women’s own Torah scroll is stored there, along with other scrolls that belong to the Conservative movement of Judaism, but it was lent out for use during the recent Jewish holidays and was found to be unfit to use because of mold.

“The Torah is being carefully cleaned and fixed by the leading authorities in Torah scroll repair and maintenance,” according to Women of the Wall spokeswoman Shira Pruce.

She placed the blame for the damage squarely on the government and Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz. His “discrimination against women’s prayers and the lack of an appropriate immediate government response in the matter has cause damage to a Torah scroll, an escalation from the previous blatant disrespect, shown by Rabinowitz and Haredi protesters, of Jewish ritual items, including siddurim, prayer shawls and tefillin,” she said.

After being told about the damage to their scroll, The Women of the Wakkl notififed the Conservartive Movement to schek their scrolls to see if they aslo has been damaged, Pruce told The Jewish Press Wednesday.

Pruce unintentionally made a comment that raises an interesting question about whose ox is being gored.

In her argument that women should be allowed to pray in the women’s section of the main Western Wall Plaza, on the women’s side of a separation barrier, Pruce noted that men are not allowed in the Women of the Wall minyan. One primary reason is that there are many Orthodox Jewish women in the movement and they abide by the tradition that the sexes should not mingle during prayer.

Isn’t that discrimination against men? How can the Women of the Wall rightfully complain that Haredim are discriminating against them by barring them from the  more popular part of the Western Wall, while they discriminate against men who might want to join their minyan?

Pruce  answers that there is a difference. She argues that the main plaza is a public place and not a “synagogue” and that it must be open to everyone, regardless of sex.

Granted that there really is no reason to forbid the women form praying as they wish at the main part of Western Wall, except for their being a nuisance to other women who object to the whole concept of a women’s minyan and Torah reading.

Granted that Rabbi Rabinowitz should have kept quiet and let the women who object to WoW chase them our out, or simply let the Wow pray and as they wish and be done with it.

But if it is a public place open to all, and the Women of the Wall can keep men out of their minyan at Robinson’s Arch, what happens if a group of Muslims decide they want to pray to Allah at the Wall?

Or perhaps a bunch of Christians want to pray to “you know who” at the Kotel?

Or maybe some  “cultural Jewish cult” wants to express their faith in God by a belly dance?

Is it kosher to keep men out of a women-only minyan but not kosher for the authority over the Kotel to keep out women who do not respect  a centuries-old tradition?

The State of the Jew According to Pew

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Pew conducted a study of Jews in America and has released a comprehensive report based on its findings. Nearly 2800 religious Jewish people were interviewed and the results of those interviews make up the model for the results of the study. It’s difficult conduct a study like this and achieve meaningful results. I am not a statistician nor can I compare the sample sizes used in this study with others. To my untrained eye, it seems small.

There are many very interesting findings to discuss. I have three things I want to say about the study.

First, people will point to the staggering number of orthodox Jews who are no longer orthodox. That number is 52%. It seems impossible to believe. That means that over half of people raised orthodox are no longer orthodox. Think about the orthodox Jewish friends and family you know. Does it make sense to say that over half of them are no longer orthodox? I don’t think so.

If you drill down a bit you notice a couple of things. For starters, I know many people who say they were raised orthodox because they went to a yeshiva or modern orthodox school even if they weren’t frum at home. I went to school with several people like that. Those people certainly skew the numbers. After all, the study relied on self identification. There was no process to classify people into categories other than to ask them.

But the real key here what the numbers are for young people being raised in contemporary orthodoxy. Those numbers are impressive. 83% of people raised as orthodox Jews under the age of 30 stay. This is a huge success. It’s also a number that correlates with anecdotal evidence. So the people who were raised orthodox and no longer are orthodox are mostly older people. What does this mean?

It means one of two things or perhaps a hybrid of two. [It doesn’t mean that orthodox Jews leave the fold in their 30’s and 40’s at alarmingly high rates.] It could either mean that orthodoxy is much stronger today than it was 20 and 30 years ago. People get a better Jewish education, there is more insularity, and the shift to ultra orthodoxy which outnumbers modern orthodoxy by nearly 10:1 in this demographic is working to keep more orthodox Jews orthodox. Alternatively, it signifies a shift in who attends orthodox schools. In other words, 20-30 years ago it was far more likely for a family to send a child to an orthodox school and identify as orthodox even if they were not totally observant of halacha. There was more cross-pollination and there were fewer non-orthodox options. So you wind up with more people from previous generations identifying as being raised orthodox even though they weren’t truly orthodox through and through. This is rarer today because we are more insular and non-orthodox or unaffiliated Jews feel less comfortable in orthodox institutions. The truth is likely a combination of the two but the latter does concern me.

Also, very few middle aged and older people consider themselves ultra-orthodox. It’s a youth movement. Sure, some mellow out and switch affiliation. But it’s also a recent phenomena that is sweeping orthodoxy. It’s pretty compelling evidence that what is happening now for the under 40 orthodox Jew is different from what their parents and grandparents experienced. It’s a different kind of Judaism. The numbers bear it out.

Next, the non-orthodox denominations are falling apart. The numbers support the rumblings and rumors regarding the demise of Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism is dwindling as well. Some orthodox Jews like to cheer while these two denominations begin to disappear. Others view it as a sign that those Jews must be saved and brought into orthodox Judaism.

I think that it is important for Judaism that non-orthodox denominations are strong and vibrant. I think that orthodox Jews should be concerned and make efforts to help revive non-orthodox Judaism. This sounds controversial and heretical but it’s really not. Orthodox Judaism is not going to magically become the Judaism for the 89% of non-orthodox Jews. We can either wish them well and watch them disappear or we can try to keep them connected to their Jewish heritage. I think the latter choice is preferable. Now we can either keep them connected by “making them orthodox” as if that is even possible, or we can rely on strong non-orthodox denominations to keep them in the fold. I think the latter choice is preferable here too. It’s certainly the more likely option to achieve widespread success. While resources are precious in the orthodox community, I think strengthening the non-orthodox denominations is a worthy endeavor. They are also our brothers and sisters. If we value what we have, we should do whatever we can to help them stay somewhat connected to their Judaism. A little bit of a good thing is a whole lot better than nothing.

What’s Wrong With the Star-K Kosher Phone?

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

About a month ago the Star-K, a world renowned Kashrus agency, announced that they were certifying kosher phones. These phones have no access to the Internet, cannot place or receive text messages, cannot take photos, and most importantly, cannot be hacked to perform any of these tasks.

It’s not troubling to me that people would want a phone that is insulated from certain tasks. Although I think it is an unnecessary measure and perhaps counter productive, I don’t begrudge people their personal self control restraints.

What is troubling is that a kashrus agency is part of this initiative. A kashrus agency should be concerned with one thing and one thing only. Their singular concern should be the kosher status of the food. I don’t even think that a kashrus agency must concern itself with humanitarian or other ethical issues that may arise. I have no problem with a secondary agency coming in and providing a secondary level of supervision. But the kosher status of the food cannot be affected by anything other its status as kosher food.

So when I see a kashrus agency entering into the phone market, I see an agency that should be worried about kosher status of food but is now legislating morality. It’s not even as if the technical skills involved in kosher supervision overlap the neutering of cell phones. They have nothing to do with each other. I don’t think it is smart for kosher supervision to be intertwined or even related to morality supervision.

Similarly, when kosher supervision agencies make demands on the clientele or ambience of an eating establishment I believe they are overstepping their bounds. There are restaurants that are not allowed to be open at certain hours because they will lose their hechsher if they are open. This is far beyond the scope of kosher supervision. Tell me if the food is kosher and I will decide if I want to patronize the restaurant. That is all we need from a kashrus agency. The stretching of their authority serves no important purpose for the public. It seems to me that it is merely a self-serving, self-righteous way to legislate their morality. If they can legislate phones and who can eat where, what’s next?

I am not making a slippery slope argument. I am pointing out that there is no logical connection between the kosher status of food and the kosher status of a phone. There is also no relationship between the kosher status of a restaurant and whether teenagers are hanging out. In other words, the kashrus agencies are already legislating their morality. There is no reason to think it only will apply in these two instances because there is no connection between these two things and the kosher status of food.

We need to stop using the word kosher for things other than food. Yes, the word is a general term but it has evolved into a word that describes whether food can be eaten by orthodox Jews who keep kosher. We don’t eat anything that is not kosher. Using the word kosher for phones and Internet implies that the non-kosher versions are not allowed to be used. This is sophomoric and divisive.

If anything, the kashrus agencies should be concerned with the ethics and morality of the actual food. This is something they have resisted time and time again. I am not recommending they get into the ethics of food business, but if they must expand their business and purview of supervision I think that is the first place they should be looking to legislate seeing as they have the knowledge and expertise to monitor and report on that aspect of food production. But teens mingling and phones? They don’t belong there at all.

Visit Fink or Swim.

‘Danger of Fire’ from Shabbat Candles Shuts Out Jewish Tourists

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Orthodox Jews from Manchester and London have decided to end their annual summer visit to a campus on the Welsh coast after the host University of  decided that lighting candles on Shabbat is a fire hazard.

Jews have not always been welcome guests at the University of Aberystwyth, which is empty of students during the summer vacation. In 2009, the Jews were welcomed with swastikas on the grass and on piece of paper found in residence halls.

University authorities insisted there was nothing anti-Semitic in their new condition for the Jewish tourists to visit, according to the London Independent.

It quoted a university spokesman as saying, “The university… would be delighted to welcome this group back, as long as they are able to sign our terms and conditions.”

However, one of the annual visitors, identified by the Independent as ”Mrs. Brander,” said, “We have found a holder to make each candle safer. We offered to  discuss it with the fire brigade, but  the university was not interested.”

Jewish families rent the university’s facilities on the coast for a vacation away from the Britain’s urban centers. In the past years, they have lit candles on Friday nights at the University of Aberystwyth without any question, until last year, when they were told of the new condition. During the same summer, a visiting rabbi drowned.

The tourists ignored the request until recently, when they decided they could not give up the lighting of candles.

“Ultimately, there was no real decision for us – our religion requires the lighting of candles,” Brander told the British newspaper.

The University of Aberystwyth five years ago defended itself against charges of anti-Semitism by London Spectator columnist Melanie Phillips, who published charges by a student that he had to write anti-Israeli and anti-American opinions or face receiving lower marks.

The student complained that in one course, a comparison was made between the treatment of Jews in Germany before the Second World War and the treatment of Muslims today. The lecturer reportedly told the student, “My assertion that Israel has been engaged in state terrorism lies first in a clear understanding of what the aims and consequences of terrorism are.”

The university replied that the course was given with the aim of being “objective, with no bias and no prejudice against any race or country.”

Next Year In… Milwaukee?

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

I finally went to the Orthodox Union’s annual Jewish Communities Fair. As a long-time pro-Aliyah activist, I had been curious about this event, and so while on tour in America, I joined the hungry Modern-Orthodox masses at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Pavilion as they searched for new communities and a new life in far flung locales like Jacksonville, Florida, Louisville, Kentucky, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin – but not Israel.

I expected to see a moderately attended event. But to my surprise, the venue was packed with over 1,300 people, exploring the forty-one different communities represented. There was so much noise, I had to stand close in order to hear community leaders make their pitches.

OU Flyer

You may wonder, as I did, why would Modern-Orthodox Jews want to leave the kosher conveniences of the NY area and move to remote places like Southfield, Michigan. It turns out, that first and foremost, the answer is affordability: cheaper housing, cheaper education, and getting more for your money. A high quality of life at an affordable price. And incentives. Some communities promise incentives like a $20,000 gift for a down-payment on your home, and free tuition from kindergarten through grade 12.

Josh Elbert, who flew in to represent Southfield, shared with me how he had come to this fair a few years ago and was skeptical when the Michigan people approached him. They said to him, “Don’t judge until you see it,” and indeed, when he saw it, he was smitten. “I am a success story of this event. Because of the connections we made here, we were able to provide a terrific opportunity for our family,” he told me. Because of the drop in real estate, he mentioned, one can buy a very large home for $115,000 in Southfield. Someone who makes forty-five thousand dollars a year can live next to a millionaire.

But there are other reasons to move to the American periphery – such as the opportunity to join a tight-knit community and make an impact on a growing shul, or aging congregation seeking new blood.

OU Community Fair Chesterfield & Crowd

I spoke with Rabbi Aaron Winter who came to Chesterfield, Missouri twenty two years ago to serve as their rabbi. He explained to me that Chesterfield is part of greater St. Louis, that they have a congregation of 80 Orthodox families, and their own mikvah and Chafetz Chaim Mesivta. He told me that his shul had succeeded in bringing many non-affiliated Jews closer to Torah. As he put it, “we are on the front lines of Orthodox Jewry in St. Louis.” Now, Chesterfield is looking to grow and they are offering up to five families a grant of twenty thousand dollars each towards the purchase of a home. “When you are an out-of-town community, even one family is gold. People appreciate you being here,” Rabbi Winter told me.

So cheaper housing, affordable education, a sense of community, and the promise of a better quality of life, are luring Jews to middle-America.

Understandable, reasonable, and respectable!

But what about the Israel option? Were any of the Modern Orthodox attendees at the OU’s Community Fair considering moving east of New York, to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv? There was no way to really know because there were no tables representing emerging communities in the emerging Jewish state. Had there been a table for, let’s say, Efrat, Modiin, or Maale Adumim, then one could gauge how much action that table saw as compared with Portland. But alas, that option did not exist. The message of the fair was clear enough: If the Orthodox Union is going to help you find a new future – it is going to be in America.

That should come as no surprise. If you go to the OU’s website, you will see lots of pro-Israel links. But if you hover your mouse over the flag of Israel at the top of the site, a text pops up which reads: “Our ‘home away from home’ in Jerusalem, the OU Israel Center, annually welcomes over 100,000 visitors and residents.” The obvious implication is that Israel is a home away from home, but home is America. Another proof of this thinking was laid bare in the ‘Communities Guide’ which was given out at the fair. In it were page after page of US destinations for “Home & Job Relocation” with pictures, contact numbers, and websites. Yet on the back cover the full page glossy called on all to: “Join Us in Celebrating Israel’s 65th Birthday – March with the OU at the Celebrate Israel Parade.” Again, the message is clear: you can celebrate Israel and love Israel with the OU, but if you’re looking to move, consider Cleveland.

Romney’s Frum Adviser Sums Up Campaign

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Had Mitt Romney won the presidential election on November 6, Tevi Troy would be busy working right now as director of domestic policy on Romney’s transition team. Fate had other ideas, though.

Troy, who served as special policy adviser to Romney’s presidential campaign, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute think tank. An Orthodox Jew who grew up in Queens, Troy has served in a number of government positions over the past 15 years, including deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in President George W. Bush’s administration. At one point he was also the White House’s lead adviser on healthcare, labor, education, transportation, immigration, crime, veterans affairs, and welfare.

Troy is also the author of two books: “Intellectuals and the American Presidency: Philosophers, Jesters, or Technicians?” (2002) and “What Washington Read, Eisenhower Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House” (forthcoming, 2013).

The Jewish Press recently spoke with him.

The Jewish Press: What exactly did you do for Romney?

Troy: I advised on a host of issues, including health policy, domestic policy, and also Jewish issues. I made TV and radio appearances, spoke to the media on Governor Romney’s behalf, and even debated Jack Lew, White House chief of staff, at a Cleveland shul a few days before the campaign ended.

What was Romney like as a person?

Well, it’s hard to say what he’s like on a trip to Disney World or something like that.

In terms of policy, he’s very bright and knowledgeable and picks up stuff very quickly. I was in a series of policy meetings he had in Washington where he met with experts on various issues; I headed the healthcare briefing. He walked into that room with no notes, spoke off the cuff very knowledgably about healthcare, and then took questions from experts and responded knowledgably, skillfully, with facts and figures.

How many times did you meet him?

Not that many. Three, four, or five.

Why do you think he lost?

It’s very hard to beat an incumbent president. A president has four years to prepare for an election campaign. Only one incumbent Democrat has lost over the last century, and that was Jimmy Carter.

I also think the torrent of negative ads that hit Governor Romney over the summer at a time when he did not have the funding to respond was very damaging. Finally, the American people tend to want to give first-term presidents a second chance.

Some people think his toned-down performance in the second and third debates may have hurt him as well.

I don’t think he toned it down at all. I think he was equally good in the second debate, and in the third debate I thought [Romney] had the right strategy, which is you don’t want to get in an ugly brawl over foreign policy when you’re trying to show the American people that you’re ready to lead.

But it seems to me that we’re in a more knuckle-baring era, and maybe the American people do want to see that kind of fighting in a foreign policy debate.

How would you compare Romney to George W. Bush?

It’s hard to say because I spent more time with Bush. Bush was very good at getting to the heart of an issue very quickly. He asked very tough questions in policy meetings. He also seemed to have more of an easygoing manner than Romney. He was very good with people – the backslapping, “hey, I’m your buddy” kind of thing. That’s a real skill in politics.

In other words, Romney is, as some people argue, a bit stiff.

I didn’t say that at all. I didn’t say anything against Romney. I’m just praising Bush for being a very good retail politician.

One of the reasons many Orthodox Jews voted for Romney was Obama’s alleged anti-Israel bias. Yet, some people argue that Obama’s position vis-à-vis Israel is identical to Bush’s; that Bush, too, supported a two-state solution.

I don’t buy that at all. First of all, President Bush worked much better with the Israelis. Second of all, President Bush supported a two-state solution, but with the Palestinians having corresponding obligations. And third of all, President Bush did not want to have preconditions before getting to the negotiating table, whereas President Obama presumed to draw what the final lines were in his speech before Netanyahu’s visit a couple of years ago.

CDC: Mumps Outbreak Due to Yeshiva Learning Style

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

A massive outbreak of mumps among Orthodox Jews in 2009 was due to the system of learning in yeshivas, according to a report by NPR.

Over 3,5000 people got sick after an 11 year-old boy came home from the UK with the illness in June of 2009, prompting New York authorities to issue an additional shot of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to children who were already considered vaccinated.

Officials at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) determined that sitting for hours at a time with a chavruta – learning partner – could bombard the system with more of the illness than for which the vaccines generally provide immunity.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/cdc-mumps-outbreak-due-to-yeshiva-learning-style/2012/11/04/

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